Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

Tech giants plead innocence to MEPs on US snooping

Executives from three of the world's biggest IT firms - Facebook, Google and Microsoft - have told MEPs they did not give US intelligence services "unfettered" access to people's private data.

Their denials came in a European Parliament hearing on the spy scandal in Brussels on Monday (11 November).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 'We know we're telling the truth,' Google said (Photo: google.be)

Richard Allan, Facebook's man in charge of public policy for Europe, noted that his CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has "forcefully and repeatedly rejected fake reports that Facebook has allowed unfettered access to its servers."

Google's government relations chief, Nicklas Lundblad, said: "We have not given the US government access to Google servers either directly or via a back door."

Dorothee Belz, Microsoft's European legal affairs chief, noted: "Microsoft does not give any government in the world unfettered access to customer data."

All three said intelligence services and police have subpoenaed them to look for specific information on individual suspects.

Facebook's Allan noted that in the six months ending 31 December 2012, US agencies made about 10,000 requests, while EU countries made another 10,000 or so queries.

He added that many of them concerned day-to-day matters, such as help to find missing children, instead of espionage, and that they affected "a tiny fraction of 1 percent of all Facebook accounts."

Microsoft's Belz said US authorities made about 7,000 requests in the same time period, but that 24 percent ended with her staff finding nothing to hand over.

The three firms also said they would like to reveal more on US intelligence queries, but that they are gagged by US law.

"I don't think you can expect statements from companies that break the law and put their people in jail," Belz noted.

"We know we're telling the truth," Google's Lundblud said.

The testimonies come after files leaked by US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said the three companies, as well as Apple, AOL, PalTalk and Yahoo, routinely hand over data to the US' National Security Agency (NSA).

US subpoenas are granted by the so-called Fisa court, which operates behind closed doors and which approved 99.95 percent of warrants filed by security services between 2001 and 2012.

Snowden files also say the NSA, and its British counterpart, GCHQ, have hacked Google servers and tapped undersea cables which carry internet and phone data between America and Europe.

For their part, MEPs voiced scepticism on the IT firms' innocence.

Sophie In 't Veld, a Dutch liberal deputy, said people from the same companies told her different stories in off-the-record chats.

"You have given carefully drafted legal statements. It reminds me very much of what President Clinton said on the Lewinsky case: 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman.' It was legally correct, but it had no bearing on the truth," she noted, referring to a 1998 US sex scandal.

'Oversight cheerleaders'

MEPs on Monday also heard from a US congressman, the Republican Party's Jim Sensenbrenner, who chairs an oversight committee on homeland security.

Sensenbrenner has tabled a bill, named the USA Freedom Act, designed to curb NSA abuse.

His law would make Fisa more transparent and would create a "privacy advocate" who would give Fisa judges counterarguments to NSA requests.

But a Democratic Party senator, Dianne Feinstein, who chairs a separate committee on intelligence oversight, has tabled a law which goes in the opposite direction.

"The Feinstein bill puts what the NSA has been doing into law and says it's OK … To me, that's scary," Sensenbrenner said.

"Over time, instead of applying the brake [on spying], they [US senators] have stepped on the gas. They've become cheerleaders for whatever the intelligence agencies want," he added.

With Feinstein's bill sailing through her committee by 11 votes to four last month, Sensenbrenner noted that he is fighting "the administration, the leadership of both our parties, of Congress, and of the intelligence oversight committee," to pass his freedom act instead.

Correction: The article originally said Feinstein is a Republican. Apologies

Magazine

Snowden affair: Much ado and then nothing

There is a fine line between security and privacy in free societies. This year, Snowden showed the world what happens when it is crossed.

UK allowed US to trawl data of Britons

The former UK government under Tony Blair granted US spies permission to spy on millions of Britons, a new investigation reports.

Feature

Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

"If evil is not defeated, it tends to expand", Natalia Magnitsky, the widow of a Russian anti-corruption activist, has said, as EU diplomats discuss human rights sanctions 10 years after his death.

Commission defends Breton's Atos over police data

The European Commission defended Atos for hosting EU police data, despite its own public guidelines that state operational and technical copies should not be entrusted to third parties. Atos former CEO Thierry Breton is set to become a European commissioner.

News in Brief

  1. Estonia working on 'Plan B' for Nato
  2. Report: Hungary gagged EU on Israeli settlers
  3. Polls suggest draw after Johnson vs Corbyn TV duel
  4. EU ambassador to testify in Trump impeachment inquiry
  5. Hungary, Poland block EU conclusions on rule of law
  6. France: wide EU backing for enlargement change
  7. EU Council calls for policy action to protect marine life
  8. ECJ: Poland's judicial independence in doubt

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us